Here is the long and short of it--the show royally sucked--I was off by sixty per cent--and aloha, can you say "sabbatical", cause I am taking one next year, and probably will never come back.
OK, here is some real meat. God bless Ruth and her review, lets just say it left you wanting to know much more.
I will give you the "much more."
First a little history.
I have done this show for 23 years since 1988. Was in the State Street show six years and have been in the Guild's Show, always on Main Street, the rest of the years.
The merchants of Ann Arbor control what goes on at all of the shows. They are a greedy bunch, who don't really care much a bout the arts, as they care about lining their pockets and getting rid of surplus goods.
The shows started, eons ago, as a way to attract people into Ann Arbor in the middle of summer when most of the college kids are gone. They figured if they held an "Art Fair" it would attract a crowd--plus--and this is really the key--it would give them a venue to move excess goods. They would set up booths right out on Liberty and State Street, right beside the artists, as is well-evidenced at the State Street Show.
You notice the shows all end on Saturday. No Sunday biz. Why is that? Because the merchants are not open to ,
make money, so they won't let the artists make money.
Of course the "party line from the merchants" goes something like this. We gotta close the shows on Saturday, so the cleanup crews can get AA back in shape for Monday. I say "BS."
On any home football weekend in AA they have just as big of crowds as they have for the art shows. Yet they manage to cleanup on Sunday so things are good for Monday. Bottom line, if the merchants can't make any money, then they won't let the artists make money.
History lesson 2.
For years, for most of us pros, who make a living at this biz, this was the biggie of the summer. You had four days to sell, you had crowds with moola to spend. We are talking pre-recession, before 2006. Many of us made $15K-$25K in those times. Some artists could live off their sales from the show for six months.
Those days are gone.
Then the merchants did an ironic money squeeze in about 2006, just as the recession started here. They made it so that booth fees doubled. Booths that were under $500 were now almost $800. Double booths and 10'x17' booths were nearly $1500.
Plainly said folks, the show costs are not worth it.
Let us talk about "NOW"
Here are the facts plain and simple why this business model does not work for 90 per cent of us.( Of course there are going to still be success stories out there, but very few. And for every one success, I can show you fifty others who barely made expenses).
You have more than 2000 booths at all of the shows, including the scab booths, chasing a paltry turnout of buyers with disposable income. Too many booths, too little buyers. A very thin slice for most of us. The model is broke folks.
Michigan's economy is not going to turn around for years to come. Disposable Income is almost an artifact in this state.
The only real remedy to help us make money is this: Reduce the number of exhibitors by one-third in all the juried shows. Make it a three-day show, drop Wednesday. End the show at an earlier time. Reduce the booth fees. They are excessively high for the return on your dollar.
I can tell you right now, nobody is going to do any of the things I suggested.
The merchants want more. They would love to push the Guild Show right off Main Street so that they can run their own show--with of course, ala State Street, their booths right out there next to the art.
Let us now talk expenses, or should we say investments, that the artist takes on to do this show.
Most of us, who have to travel to AA and stay in lodgings have a minimum of $1500-$2000 in operating expenses.
Booth fees--$750 for a 10'x10' 10'x17' are $1300 Double booths are double the 10'x10'
Auto costs: A minimum of a full tank of gas each way--so about $200-$275
Auto parking: $100
Lodging: A minimum of $50-$125 per night times six: $300-$750
Food: At least $50 per day or higher.
Sales; Ah, thought we ever get around to that.
Average exhibitor this year barely made expenses or a little over. In the past many people have had an"OK" show by doing around $5-6K. Other pros have cleared $8K or better. I am talking recession-era now.
Sorry folks, but that almost $2K in operating expenses could be better invested for a return on money, rather than AA.
WHAT HAPPENED THIS YEAR?
Excessive heat way beyond the norm (It is always hot at AA) but this went beyond that.
People were fainting in their booths on Thursday with 100-degree temps. Crowds were almost non-existent. At times, you could have thrown a bowling ball and a cinder block across the aisle and not hit anybody.
When the crowds did show, they bought very little and very mediocre. Low end sales. I was off by 60 per cent over last year.
This is show in a death spiral. Things will get worse.
Take your money and invest it elsewhere. Ann Arbor is a bad gamble.
That is all I am saying. Aloha, Nels. You can fool me once, but you won't fool me twice.
Postscript: I am in the Guild show on Main Street. They run a professional operation. Plenty of help for the artists, water, food , booth-sitters. They do a creditable job.
Sounds to me there is a lot of fence mending that has to be done between the shows and the merchants (even the shows that are the merchant organizations) and the university. I am astonished at the university's uncooperative attitude and that the buildings were not accessible during tornado warnings and during this extreme heat AND that artists can't sit on the grass!
I'm hearing good things about Maggie Ladd at the South U. show and Max Clayton and the Guild staff and Mo Riley also, all carrying on under the imposed rules and doing their best.
Carlye, that must have been terrible for you. I know you've been working hard on your personal life with your husband ill for a long time. You probably were looking forward to being out with your friends in the art fair arena after your break. This had to be a terrible disappointment. Best wishes and I look forward to seeing you soon.
What others have said applies equally to our corner booth on Liberty in the Guild area. The hot weather led to fewer people listlessly shuffling past in the heat, without much buying energy. The Guild did its usual excellent job of organization and support. And yes, the merchants are greedy. The one in back of our booth put up a canopy and set up sale merchandise within a foot of the back of our booth, and well overlapping the passage way that made it a corner booth. This was unacceptable to us; we could not store inventory, sit back of the booth, and had difficulty moving out. However, we could do nothing about it.
Carlye, my condolences on the passing of your husband.
Having shown with you in a gallery setting, you are one of Ann Arbors finest artists and should always be treated with the respect that you deserve. I think you proved my point about what the Ann Arbor fairs are and have become.
The Guild allows a sabbatical. I'm not sure the other shows allow that.
Wow Carlye what a nightmare! I am so sorry to hear how your were treated. A "squatter"..really? Yikes.
Once was enough for us at Ann Arbor, we have not been back. $800 is a lot of money for a booth fee not to mention all the other expenses in these times. As I mentioned previously; I think we should all be a lot more selective about the shows we participate in. If enough artists did not throw their hard earned money at these kind of shows the organizers would have no choice but to make some serious changes. Carlye, I am not directing this at you but it baffles me how many times artists will complain about a show but continue to do it year after year. I guess they have a lot of expendable income!
Like Marjorie, I too grew up in AA, I lived 3 blocks west of Main St. The summer sidewalk sales were there first , folks.
When the original show proved a successful venture, Main Street needed a way to compete. The "FREE Fair" and the Guild came into being, and Main Street saw the opportunity, a partnership was forged.
I do not dispute the fact that the Cash Cow has been milked to death at this point. Regardless of the spin, it is sinking of it's own weight.
This was our 29th year. We have loyal customers that came to find us there. We have their contact info. so we can keep them informed about other events that they can more easily find us. However, this year we specifically asked why, in the face of the dangerous heat, they came anyway. The answer was that;
1. They love the show, Ann Arbor, know who they want to find and where they can find them, and have a belief that their favorite artists come to this show with their best work.
I think those of us with many years in, have an edge. As Nels said, the expenses for us to start up were far less, we have grown with the increases, and so far, we are keeping ahead of it. I can't imagine, as an emerging artist, how this show would pay back quick enough to make it worth the sacrifices.
As far as show management goes, the Guild is the tops. I'm a 33 year member, and this was my 29th year on Main Street. I'll be back next year......hoping for cooler weather, and a better economy for Michigan.